VOD film review: Independence Day: Resurgence
Mark Harrison | On 14, Nov 2016
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth, Jesse T Usher, Brent Spiner
Watch Independence Day 2 online in the UK: Disney+ / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play / Sky Store
We have given a name to our misery, and it is Independence Day: Resurgence. The belated sequel to Roland Emmerich’s 1996 sci-fi action blockbuster arrived in UK cinemas on the same day as the results of the referendum on the European Union, so it’s only fitting that it should make its debut on home entertainment platforms in the same week as America elected its last president.
But a film is more than just the timing of its release, and you’d think this kind of nonsense would cheer us up and take our minds off Brexit and Trump. After all, for all of its gung-ho patriotism, the original Independence Day is a film in which first contact with a hostile race prompted humanity to look for the best in themselves and rally to defend Earth from alien aggression. But long before its audaciously bonkers final line, the sequel has set itself out as the opposite.
In Resurgence, the same amount of time has elapsed since the events of the first film as in real life, and the world is enjoying an unprecedented era of peace. Continuing the global co-operation that saw off the aliens last time around, mankind retro-engineered technology left behind from the invasion to make incredible advances in technology, setting up the Earth Space Defence, ran by David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), as an early warning system for any return visit by the intergalactic gribblies.
But ahead of the 20th anniversary celebrations of humanity’s successful stand against the aliens, former US President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) are troubled by strange visions, due to their past close encounters of the third kind. Along with the next generation in the ESD – hotshot pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe) and Captain Steven Hiller’s stepson, Dylan (Jessie T. Usher) – the heroes of the first invasion soon find themselves facing a redoubled threat to their existence.
The result is a film that sloppily rounds all of the bases from its predecessor, while also snarking about tropes and repeatedly underlining how much bigger this is than the last time. As a so-called legacyquel, it’s much more cynical than something like Jurassic World and weirdly plays like The Force Awakens from some bizarre parallel universe, where Independence Day left as big a cultural impression as Star Wars.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way that the absent Will Smith character is portrayed. Smith opted not to return for this sequel, meaning that Hiller was simply killed off between films and commemorated in a snigger-inducing oil painting that’s apparently been sourced from a screengrab and hung up in the White House. But the film conflates Hiller with Smith, when his character was hardly iconic or indelible. Certainly, Usher cannot live up to his screen dad’s charisma for even a moment.
In fact, many of the new characters are bland archetypes, which is a big shame for Monroe, who’s wasted in this sort of thing, and Hemsworth, who’s still actually better here than he has ever been as the young buck who grew up in the shadow of the events of 96. Likewise, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Sela Ward have little to do, although Ward’s presence as the first female president is in line with Emmerich’s more liberal tendencies – just as White House Down was the “Die Hard in the White House” movie filmed ahead of the 2012 presidential election that stumped for Jamie Foxx rather than Aaron Eckhart.
That’s rarely in evidence anywhere else, as the city-smashing disaster porn gets cranked until it all feels weightless. The appropriation of 9/11 imagery is particularly egregious, given how the film posits an alternate timeline in which the attacks on the World Trade Center would not have happened.
Emmerich doubles down on the lack of stakes by having the characters comment drily on the carnage, with the usually magnetic Goldblum sounding like he’s come straight from the set of one of his Curry’s ads. On the other hand, Pullman, whose character is the only one who came close to iconic status in the first one, is left nervously wringing his hands and always halts before he builds up some steam for another epic speech.
As well as being bigger and more sarcastic, Independence Day 2 is cheesier than the original. In one laboured subplot, the film bundles Levinson’s dad (Judd Hirsch) onto a school bus full of rescued kids and a dog that can implausibly slalom in and out of danger. Don’t even get us started on the benevolent Spaceball that provides a counterpoint to the invaders. Independence Day was a B-movie writ large; the sequel is a massive movie written like Sharknado.
Like the characters, they’ve had 20 years to prepare, but the script is woefully unoriginal. As many have remarked, the backstory of a former warlord (Deobia Oparei), whose people fought off the aliens that were stranded in the Congo after the initial invasion, is a far, far better idea for a movie. Safe and nostalgic as it is, Resurgence never once livens up until the bug-nut crazy action finale, which is the only part that truly strays from formula.
The consensus seems to be “we knew they would come back” and it’s that kind of crushing inevitability that characterises this wilfully silly sequel. Retconning some parts and cannibalising others, all while facetiously rehashing them, the result actually serves to make the first film worse in retrospect.
Independence Day: Resurgence is available on Disney+, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.